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Schumann • Prior • Liszt

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann • Prior • Liszt
LABELS: Dal Sengo
WORKS: Kreisleriana, Op. 16 • Svyatogor’s Quest • Petrarch Sonnet No. 104; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12
PERFORMER: Wu Qian (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DSPRCD 041

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25-year-old Wu Qian moved to England from Shanghai when she was 13, to study first at the Yehudi Menuhin School and then at the Royal Academy. This, her first recording, shows huge promise.

Qian responds to Schumann’s imagination in Kreisleriana with rare poise and an engaging spirit, drawing the listener in. Playing the tricky piano writing with apparent ease, her characterisation is subtle yet superbly defined.

Generally her playing is more intimate than effervescent, and those familiar with the intensity of Argerich and Horowitz (his 1969 recording) may miss a certain sense of pianistic and musical exploration; but like Jonathan Biss (EMI), Qian never sounds anonymous and reaches the heart of this music. She exudes more charm than Biss, although ultimately his account feels the more fully matured.

Alexander Prior’s Svyatogor’s Quest, a 20-minute work in variation form, develops a simple idea largely through texture, with firmly triadic harmony. It seems to me to lack the richness of invention to sustain its length, although it is superlatively played.

In Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet 104 Qian aims for nocturne-like beauty, overriding (as many do) Liszt’s demand for a constant forte dynamic and missing the essential quality of ardent passion.

The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 is more successful, with sparkling finger-work and many lovely imaginative touches, although she doesn’t quite embrace the work’s gypsy swagger and sentimentality.

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Qian’s playing occasionally veers towards being too well-mannered, when the Liszt especially invites a more rhetorical vigour. But her playing exudes communicative warmth and sincerity, and she has been very well recorded. I look forward to her next disc. Tim Parry